Officials of Norway’s mountainous county of Telemark were cheering over the weekend when their Vemork power station and industrial history centered in Rjukan finally won official recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site. County officials had been campaigning for a spot on the World Heritage list for several years.
“This is a big day for Telemark,” announced Terje Riis-Johansen, the former Center Party government minister who now serves as county mayor in Telemark. “It’s an honour and a stamp of quality that will offer us great possibilities.”
The power station at Vemork is perhaps most famous as the site of daring sabotage carried out by Norwegian resistance forces during World War II, because of fears the Nazi German occupiers at the time were producing heavy water for use in nuclear weapons. The plant had been constructed by industrial firm Norsk Hydro in 1911 and figured prominently in the movie about the sabotage operation, The Heroes of Telemark. State broadcaster NRK also aired a new series last winter with more realistic details about the operation, just before Norwegians celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and the German occupation.
The mayors of nearby Notodden, Tinn and Vinje also said they were proud and thrilled to win the UNESCO recognition for Vemork and Telemark’s industrial history at Rjukan. The power station is open to the public as part of the Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum (Norsk Industriarbeider Museum). They believe it will now attract more visitors and help preserve the site and other places of historical interest in nearby Rjukan for generations to come.
Tine Sundtoft, the state government minister in charge of climate and the environment, was quick to congratulate the county officials while on holiday in France. “World Heritage status opens up for new business and jobs in the area, along with preserving its industrial heritage,” Sundtoft said. She and Jørn Holme, director of Norway’s historical preservation agency Riksantikvaren, will be officially marking the new World Heritage status in Rjukan on August 21.
Norway already boasts several other World Heritage sites as well, including the Urnes Stave Church, the Bryggen wharf in Bergen, the entire preserved mining town of Røros, the rock carvings at Alta in Northern Norway, the Vega islands and historic fishing settlements off Nordland County and the western Norwegian fjord landscape. The fjords in and around Geiranger were the last to win World Heritage status in 2005.
Internationally, UNESCO (the United Nations’ Education, Science and Cultural Organization) sites include such famous places as the Grand Canyon in the US and the Galapagos Islands.